Ecosystem Services and Chemical Risk Assessment

Ecosystem goods and services are the benefits we (humans) get from nature. They include provisioning services (e.g. from crops that provide food and fibre), cultural services (e.g. the aspects of ecosystems that provide spiritual, recreational and educational benefits) and regulating services (e.g. the role of ecosystems in alleviating floods, modifying climates and regulating pest and disease organisms).

Environmental landscapes are multifunctional but the range of services they provide is largely dependent on how they are managed. Managing for some services limits the delivery of others, e.g. draining land to increase agricultural yields increases food production but reduces flood alleviation. Understanding how ecosystems provide services and the trade-offs between them helps authorities decide where and how the ecosystem services needed to benefit society can be provided.

In addition to helping manage landscapes and communicate the benefits people gain from the environment, the ecosystem services concept also has relevance for how we assess the potential impacts of commercial chemicals that are released into the environment. It provides a framework for focussing our assessments of potential impacts on the types of plants and animals providing the services in each type of potentially exposed habitat. In principle, these spatial differences would change the basis for making chemical risk assessments from protecting all species everywhere at all times, a likely conservative approach in current chemical regulation, to a more environmentally representative assessment based on types of land and water body use. As a result, the potential for applying overly cautious risk management measures for chemicals under certain environmental scenarios would be reduced. Finally, application of an Ecosystem Services approach will help target risk management resulting in more effective environmental protection.